“The Right Grip”

The next step is to learn to grip the Bansuri in the correct manner and close one hole at a time. In the previous step, when you produced the sound, it was done with all fingering holes open. As you close them one after another, you will produce distinct and clear notes on the Bansuri.

The most important thing to remember while holding Bansuri is that the three fingers of each hand that cover fingering holes, should be free to move quickly on the Bansuri. In other words, these fingers should not be used to grip the Bansuri and you should not force them around it. They should be as light as possible. One of the most common mistakes is to grip the Bansuri with the index finger of the top hand. If you grip the Bansuri with your playing fingers, they will not be able to move fast enough and your playing speed will suffer.

Before you go any further, it is important to point out that the discussion below is my take on the grip. There are many strong opinions and counter opinions in this area. You may want to review them first.

The Bansuri should be pivoted in place by three support points:

1.   the chin

2.   thumb of the upper hand pushing the Bansuri at the chin

3.   thumb of the lower hand providing counterbalance

Additional controlling force (not gripping force) can be provided by third fingers and little fingers of upper and lower hands. The thumb of upper hand should push the Bansuri from about 1” from the first fingering hole. The thumb of lower hand should be somewhere between 4th and 5th hole at about 90 to 120 degrees from the holes.

Since, by now, you managed to get the sound out of the Bansuri, you can take the next step. Hold the Bansuri with the correct grip explained above with all fingering holes open. Blow into the Bansuri. Make sure that you get the clean sound you got before. Then close the topmost fingering hole. Do you get clean sound of a new note? If so, practice for a while to play with the index finger open and close one after another. You should get notes uniformly spaced in some rhythm – 1,2,1,2,1,2….

Once you can play this comfortably, you are ready for the next step. Close first two holes. Do you get clean sound of yet another note? If you don’t then the most common possibility is that you are somehow letting the air escape from one of the closed holes. Check and try again. Then play to practice opening and closing this hole, so that the notes sound clean and uniform in rhythm – 1,2,1,2,1,2… Then practice to play the three notes that you learnt so far one after the other – 1,2,3,1,2,3… – till you can get the uniform sound and spacing of notes.

Once you get this, close one more hole and repeat one note at a time, till you play with all holes closed. Remember to ensure that you are not letting air leak from any of the closed holes. If you are, then the note will not sound clean.

Gripping Styles

“The Right Grip” is yet another highly debated topic amongst the Hindustani Bansuri players. Essentially there are two schools of thought. One school of thought – led by Bansuri players following Pt. Pannalal Ghosh’s style – is to close fingering holes with finger tips. This old photograph of Pt. Pannalal Ghosh shows this grip.

Proponents of this approach swear by it and claim several advantages. Some claimed advantages of this grip are – it helps more control on fingering, thereby making it easier to play flat notes. Another claimed advantage is also to be able to close the seventh hole on the Bansuri with the little finger with the lower hand, thereby giving longer range for the slides.

The second school of thoughts – led by Bansuri players following Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia’s style – is to close fingering holes with the middle part of the fingers except for the third hole for each hand, which is closed with finger tips. This photo of Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia illustrates this grip. Several advantages are claimed of this grip too. This grip is much more natural for many, especially if you have long fingers. Also, playing Gamaks or continuous slides is much easier.

In this discussion, I have explained the two popular grips. You are free to make your judgment on which grip you prefer, however just be cautious not to venture away from one of these grips. It is especially bad if you grip Bansuri the way you would grip the Western flute. It is very difficult to play fast patterns on Bansuri if it is gripped the way Western flute is gripped. The Western flute has keys that need to be depressed in a certain way and flat notes are played in a different way. With Bansuri, because of the way half notes are played, it is important to follow one of the grips shown above and not the grip used with the Western flute. The decision you would make on the grip will stay with you forever, hence give it a careful consideration.

6 Responses to ““The Right Grip”

  • Hello, am having problem in covering the last 3 holes, my third finger of the right hand does not reaches the 6th hole. i am finding it difficult as when i try to cover that my 5th hole leaks. what to do ?

    • This typically happens because of incorrect grip. It can also be that you need to keep practicing and your fingers will eventually start falling in the right place. If you can record a short video on Youtube and post link here http://www.bansuriflute.com/activity/, we can figure out if the grip is incorrect.

  • Prasad,
    Interesting to note that you advise against a grip similar to that of the western flute. A small number of bansuri players, most notable among them stalwarts like Prakash Wadhera and Prakash Saxena, do grip the bansuri like the western flute and have produced some wonderful music in their own right. I personally find this grip difficult but just my two cents from what I know.


    • I have not had opportunity to see Prakash Wadhera or Prakash Saxena perform, but Pandit Raghunath Seth has a grip that is different from the two mentioned above. I am big fan of his music and listen regularly to his recordings.

      It is true that a lot of practice can make you achieve pretty much anything. It is also true that if you start in a right way, you can go even further with that practice.

      Like pretty much everything in Hindustani music, no rule is absolute. I think the larger point is to be careful about the grip because it stays with you forever.

  • Prasad,
    I use the finger tip to reach the 3rd and 6th holes. In the others I use de middle part.
    It is the only way I can get all the holes closed. Perhaps a “bad influence’ of western flute?
    (I am talking about a D Bansuri. Perhaps in the E Bansuri I’ll be able to use only the middle part.)


    • I forgot to mention in the article above that the Chaurasia style of grip involves 3rd an 6th holes closed with finger tips as well. I corrected the article above.

      Closing 3rd and 6th hole with middle part of fingers will not be optimum as it will not let you play big bansuris and even with smaller ones, you will have less control on half notes.